The Northern Pike is a species of carnivorous fish of the genus Esox (the pikes). Northern Pike grow to a relatively large size; lengths of 150 cm (59 in) and weights of 25 kg (55 lb) are not rare. The average length is about 70–120 cm (28–47 in). The Northern Pike gets its name from its resemblance to the pole-weapon known as the pike. The Northern Pike is a relatively aggressive species, especially with regards to feeding. For example, when food sources are sparse, cannibalism develops, starting around five weeks in a small percentage of populations. This cannibalism occurs when the ratio of predator to prey is two to one. Northern Pike are capable of “fast start” movements, which are sudden high-energy bursts of unsteady swimming. Many other fish exhibit this movement, as well. Most fish use this mechanism to avoid life-threatening situations. For the Northern Pike, however, it is a tool used to capture prey from their sedentary positions. They flash out in such bursts and capture their prey.
Northern Pike are most often olive green, shading from yellow to white along the belly. The flank is marked with short, light bar-like spots and a few to many dark spots on the fins. Sometimes, the fins are reddish. Younger Northern Pike have yellow stripes along a green body; later, the stripes divide into light spots and the body turns from green to olive green. The lower half of the gill cover lacks scales and it has large sensory pores on its head and on the underside of its lower jaw which are part of the lateral line system. Unlike the similar-looking and closely related muskellunge, the Northern Pike has light markings on a dark body background and fewer than six sensory pores on the underside of each side of the lower jaw.
Northern Pike angling is becoming an increasingly popular pastime in the UK and Europe. Effective methods for catching this hard-fighting fish include dead baits, lure fishing, and jerk baiting. They are prized as game fish for their determined fighting.
Lake fishing for Northern Pike from the shore is especially effective during spring, when the big Northern Pike move into the shallows to spawn in weedy areas, and later many remain there to feed on other spawning coarse fish species to regain their condition after spawning. For the hot summer and during inactive phases, the larger female Northern Pike tend to retire to deeper water and/or places with better cover. This gives the boat angler good fishing during the summer and winter seasons. Trolling (towing a fairy or bait behind a moving boat) is a popular technique.
The use of float tubes has become a very popular way of fishing for Northern Pike on small to medium-sized still waters. Fly fishing for Northern Pike is another eligible way of catching these fish, and the float tube is now recognized as an especially suitable water craft for pike fly-fishing. Also they have been caught this way by using patterns that imitate small fry or invertibrates.
In recent decades, more pike are released back to the water after catching (catch and release), but they can easily be damaged when handled. Handling those fish with dry hands can easily damage their mucus-covered skin and possibly lead to their deaths from infections.
Since they have very sharp and numerous teeth, care is required in unhooking a Northern Pike. Barbless trebles are recommended when angling for this species, as they simplify unhooking. This is undertaken using long forceps, with 30-cm artery clamps the ideal tool. When holding the Northern Pike from below on the lower jaw, it will open its mouth. It should be kept out of the water for the minimum amount of time possible, and should be given extra time to recover if being weighed and photographed before release.
Many countries have banned the use of live fish for bait, but Northern Pike can be caught with dead fish, which they locate by smell. For this technique, fat marine fish like herring, sardines and mackerel are often used. Compared to other fish like the eel, the pike does not have a good sense of smell, but it is still more than adequate to find the baitfish. Baitfish can be used as ground bait, but also below a float carried by the wind. This method is often used in wintertime and best done in lakes near schools of preyfish or at the deeper parts of shallow water bodies, where Northern Pike and preyfish tend to gather in great numbers.
Northern Pike make use of the lateral line system to follow the vortices produced by the perceived prey, and the whirling movement of the spinner is probably good way to imitate or exaggerate these. Jerk baits are also effective and can produce spectacular bites with pike attacking these erratic-moving lures at full speed. For trolling, big plugs or softbaits can be used. Spoons with mirror finishes are very effective when the sun is at a sharp angle to the water in the mornings or evenings because they generate the vibrations previously discussed and cause a glint of reflective sunlight that mimics the flash of white-bellied prey. Most fishermen tend to use small lures, but often that is not advisable because Northern Pike have a preference for large prey. When fishing in shallow water for smaller Northern Pike, lighter and smaller lures are frequently used.
Northern Pike is found in fresh water throughout the Northern Hemisphere, including Russia, Europe, and North America. It has also been introduced to lakes in Morocco, and is even found in brackish water of the Baltic Sea, but they are confined to the low-salinity water at the surface of the sea, and are seldom seen in brackish water elsewhere. Within North America, Northern Pike populations are found in Illinois, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan, Montana, Maryland, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Indiana, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Vermont, Iowa, Utah, Texas, northern New Mexico and Arizona, Colorado, New York, Idaho, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Québec (pike are rare in British Columbia and east coast provinces), Alaska, the Ohio Valley, the upper Mississippi River and its tributaries, the Great Lakes Basin and surrounding states, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, and Oklahoma.